Book Review: Tuscan folk tales meet migrant memories in Moreno Giovanonni’s The Fireflies of Autumn

In San Ginese, life and death live side by side, as do prosperity and poverty, opportunity and desperation, friends and enemies. But filled as it is with bawdy gossip, tall tales, and plenty of manure, The Fireflies of Autumn, and Other Tales of San Ginese is not just a story of hardship and hope, but a vibrant love letter to the act of collective memory, and to the real-life Tuscan village where author Moreno Giovannoni was born.

Devised as a collection of short stories and drawing on tales recounted from living memory, Giovannoni has (reluctantly) embellished where necessary. But, given the reliance on oral tradition and the generations that have passed in the telling, it is ultimately the lessons we learn, rather than the truth of the story that matters. Giovannoni’s stories are almost fable-like, combining a fairytale-esque simplicity with all the richness of traditional folk lore and, once you get a feel for them, they’re a pleasure to read.

Characters come and go, seeking better lives in America or – like Giovannoni’s family – in Australia. Some find success, others don’t. Some return, others don’t. But from Tomasso the Killer, whose attempts to make a fortune abroad end in murder, to the seemingly superhuman strength of Giovannoni’s own grandfather Bucchione, to the day the entire village upped and left, the bare bones of each tale is true, and, often seem to carry the same message – that no matter what you try, you won’t always find what you’re looking for. And if that feels a little morbid, well that just seems to be the San Ginese way of things; wonderfully down to earth and accompanied by more than a little wry humour.

The Fireflies of Autumn, and Other Tales of San Ginese is a stunning folkloric collection of Tuscan fables, that examines the plight of both the migrant, and those left behind. Blending nostalgia and memory, and imbuing them with just a little of magic, Moreno Giovannoni has captured something rich, vibrant, and, occasionally, truly moving.

 

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

 

Moreno Giovannoni’s The Fireflies of Autumn, and Other Tales of San Ginese is available now through Black Inc.

Jodie Sloan

Rogue academic, philosophical sloven, and earnest scribbler. Likes: Stiff drinks, good books, and the musical stylings of Frank Sinatra. Also likes: Pop culture, feminism, and excessive use of CAPSLOCK.